By SARA QAMAR
Capital News Service
LANSING – Feral pigs wreaking havoc on fields and farms have made enough enemies for the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to propose a ban on ownership of wild boars.
Legislation to head off the prohibition would allow hunting Eurasian boars and other wild hog species to continue at private game ranches, subject to state regulations.
If the bills don’t pass, DNR will declare the boars an invasive species in July, making it illegal for game ranch operators to have the swine in their facilities.
DNR set the deadline to give lawmakers time to stringently regulate the sporting swine industry.
Game facilities that have both deer and boars currently have fencing requirements, but ones with only boars are unregulated, said DNR communications representative Mary Dettloff.
DNR estimates that 65 game ranches allow boar hunting, including some with deer.
Feral swine, or wild pigs, pose a risk of disease to humans and wildlife, as well as destruction of agricultural resources and plants. They can pass diseases to domestic pigs through nose-to-nose contact, experts said.
And Dave Nyberg, Michigan United Conversation Club (MUCC) legislative affairs manager said, “Pigs can’t be contained even by very strong fences. Fences have to be buried deep underground because they root under them.”
Wild boars can pass on pseudorabies to domestic pigs, said Michigan Pork Producers Association Executive Vice President Sam Hines.
That disease would greatly reduce the domestic pig population and prevent exports to states like Indiana, where 25,000 to 30,000 pigs are sent to market weekly, Hines said. In 2008, it cost the state $415,000 to eradicate a few hundred wild boars infected by pseudorabies.
“We’re vehemently opposed to trying to regulate them. Unfortunately, these animals are not native and they’ve been brought here for sport-shooting in clubs.” The facilities have not been able to contain them, Hines said.
According to DNR, there were 43 feral pig sightings in 30 counties in 2010. Some were reported in populous counties such as Washtenaw, Oakland and Livingston, while Mecosta had the most last year.
But Hines said, “The data they’ve maintained is nowhere close to the actual number.”
The legislation would include fencing requirements for game ranches and tagging of Eurasian boar, said Rep. Sharon Tyler, R-Niles, a sponsor.
Other sponsors of the House bill include Reps. Ed McBroom, R-Vulcan; Matt Huuki, R-Atlantic Mine; and Paul Opsommer, R-DeWitt.
Nyberg said the legislative package is a step in the right direction but doesn’t reflect all the recommendations of a feral swine work group, which looked at bio-security and penalties for violations, among other measures.
“Stakeholders who have an interest in this issue, helped put these recommendations together. So why the bill doesn’t contain that bare minimum we don’t know,” he said.
The group included members from game facilities, breeders, the pork industry and MUCC, Nyberg said.
DNR’s Dettloff said once a pig escapes, it’s considered feral. Eventually, the animal grows fur and tusks, which are normally removed from domesticated pigs because they are considered dangerous.
Some feral pigs escape from farms, but most come from hunting facilities, she said.
“Once feral pigs become an established thing in our state, it’ll be a huge problem. It would cost the state millions of dollars to control an established feral pig population,” she said.
“DNR is not in a position to be spending that amount of money on one species, which is why we want to eradicate the ones that are feral and regulate the ones behind fences,” Dettloff said.
Some game ranch operators oppose the proposed DNR ban and parts of the legislation, such as fees and fencing requirements, Dettloff said.
The industry should pay for regulatory programs or the state will need to find money from another area, possibly hunting and fishing, to enforce the regulations, she said.
Tyler said opposing sides in the debate need to find a middle ground to avoid eliminating the industry.
“Everybody has the right to be in business. As long as we can work together within the sporting swine regulations. I’m not one to take somebody out of business,” she said.
The legislation is in the House Agriculture Committee.
© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.